WELCOME back to the '60s. Simon and Garfunkel are back in turtlenecks and singing of the sounds of silence.
The Hollies, Three Dog Night, the Turtles and the Animals have re-formed and are touring, and the Yardbirds, Ten Years After and Manfred Mann are planning reunion concerts.
In America, a new generation of bands with evocative names like the Three O'Clock, the Rain Parade, the Chesterfield Kings, the Dream Syndicate and the Unclaimed have emerged with styles ripped whole from the colorful fabric of punk, folk-rock and psychedelia.
But before you search your closet for a paisley shirt or light up that crumbling stick of incense, you may want to consider partaking of that glorious decade in the safest and least embarrassing fashion--through a good reissue album. Rhino Records, a small independent label in Los Angeles, continues to be the leader in the '60s reissue field.
Alternating from reverent reissues of surf, psychedelic and folk-rock artists to outrageously irreverent works by the likes of Barnes and Barnes, Weird Al Yankovic and Dr. Demento, Rhino embodies the serious and the comic spirits of the music world.
Its latest set of reissues, colorfully packaged and intelligently compiled, continues the tradition of savvy and silly historical plunder. There is "Greatest Hits" (Rhino RNDF255), an illustrious Jerry Lee Lewis picture disc, as well as the Three Stooges' picture disc, "Madcap Musical Nonsense" (Rhino RNLP808).
In response to collectors' demand, Rhino has reissued "Nazz," "Nazz Nazz" and "Nazz III," the recorded legacy of Todd Rundgren's late '60s power-pop group. The three-record set "The History of Flo and Eddie and the Turtles" (Rhino RNTA1998) focuses on rare and unreleased tracks from these commercially eclectic and somewhat satiric Los Angeles rock bands.
Perhaps the most intriguing new Rhino releases deal with four seminal '60s artists whose historical significance exceeds the popularity they achieved in that decade. "The Best of the Standells" (Rhino RNLP107) and "The Best of the Chocolate Watchband" (Rhino RNLP108) will go a long way in satisfying fans of '60s psycho-punk. Both groups were reflections of the grass-roots music of the American teen-ager 1965-1967, a time when the simple dance dynamics of the frat house slowly gave way to the music-expanding forces of psychedelia.
The Standells' collection is easily the superior, making a strong case for this band's stature as the quintessential, and perhaps best, punk group of the '60s.
Opening with a mindlessly irresistible six-note guitar riff, "Dirty Water" remains the Standells' classic, a taunting declaration of teen angst. Like "Dirty Water," all of the songs here are full of sneering vocals from the Jagger-Dylan school of nasalese, churning organ riffs and ominous fuzz guitar licks. In the best of these, like "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White," the Standells actually toughened up the sound and stance of the Rolling Stones. Each of their angry pop gems is loaded up with a suburban neighborhood's worth of teen-ager discontent and alienation.
The Standells' songs were mostly socially conscious attacks on uptight women, parents, police, rich kids and any other forces that denied their right to self-gratification. If the object of their desire in "Why Pick on Me" was something less than a teen dream ("platinum hair/black at the roots/short-short skirts/and girlie boots"), it took no edge off the excruciating torture they suffered from sexual denial ("long hair up against my skin/never once have you given in").
In retrospect, there may be something comic about the adolescent bravado and contemptuousness the Standells so ruthlessly projected. But they were a compelling rock 'n' roll band--tough, tight and too angrily focused to fit into the utopian pipe dream of the burgeoning psychedelic movement.
In many ways, the Chocolate Watchband was a more typical psych-punk band than the Standells. Not particularly talented or original, the band vacillated between outright Stones ripoffs like "Sweet Young Thing" and weirdly ornate and experimental pieces like "Expo 2000" and "In the Past."
As with many bands from this era, its appeal is in the earnestness of its pretensions and its outlandish and trashy flights of instrument fancy. The Chocolate Watchband remains a perfect artifact of an era when bands could naively assume the artistic, even cosmic significance of their every drug-drenched riff.
An altogether different style of '60s rock is provided on "The Bobby Fuller Tapes: Vol. I" (RhinoRNLP057). This collection of unreleased tapes from 1960 to 1964 reveals the young Texan as a still derivative, but undeniably talented rocker from the Buddy Holly school of ringing guitars, sweet melodies and galloping drums. The premise underlying this arcane collection is that Fuller, mostly known for his rousing "I Fought the Law," was a gifted original who, if not for his mysterious death in 1966, would have provided a uniquely American brand of rock 'n' roll during the British-dominated '60s. We'll never know what Fuller might have accomplished, but this collection is something more than mundane simply because of the honest vitality he brought to his music.
Rhino has also released "The Best of Slim Harpo" (RhinoRNLP106), a long overdue collection from this languid Louisiana bluesman who influenced a generation of British rockers with shuffling beats, lazy harp solos and a drawl sung straight through his nose.
Harpo's two big hits are here, the moody swamp ballad "Raining in My Heart" and the slow-motion funk of "Baby Scratch My Back." Even more impressive are his early sides, which the Rolling Stones took to heart and covered, like "I'm a King Bee," "Got Love If You Want It' and "Shake Your Hips." The sensuous rhythm grooves Harpo's band achieved and his relaxed, slurred vocals epitomize the unique style of Louisiana blues that would also later inspire Credence Clearwater Revival.
Every would-be punk should listen to Harpo sing "I'm a King Bee" at least once. When Harpo snaps out "sting it" and Guitar Gable pops those steely guitar notes, you know what nasty is all about.